INTERVENTION BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE THE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
AT HIGH-LEVEL MEETING ON THE CHALLENGES OF THE ASSOCIATE MEMBERS OF ECLAC
IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (VIRTUAL)
ON MONDAY, MARCH 15 2021
Excellencies, ladies and gentleman,
The British Virgin Islands is pursuing sustainable development in the context of a post-disaster society. You will recall that less than three-and-a-half years ago, our islands and the entire society were devasted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. All the physical infrastructure built over the past 70 years was damaged or destroyed, with estimated loss and damage of $2.6 billion according to ECLAC. The magnitude of the impact of two category five hurricanes thrust us into a national crisis that curtailed the trajectory of our national development.
In the period since Irma and Maria, the British Virgin Islands has continued to rebuild. Considerable progress has been made, but recovery has been primarily on the back of our own fiscal and financial resources, and loans of $115 million from the Caribbean Development Bank. Three-years after the storms struck, the Government had received no direct grants for reconstruction, except for very modest EU funding to rebuild our early warning systems and emergency financial assistance from UN agencies to support the social sector. Nonetheless, the steady pace of our recovery has moved us closer to the goal of a more resilient society.
Upon assuming office in February 2019, my Administration proceeded with preparations for the development a National Sustainable Development Plan to transition the British Virgin Islands from recovery to sustainable development. We successfully began the preparatory process with the generous support of ECLAC. However, our efforts were disrupted in March 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation required us to take emergency measures that involved the redeployment of financial resources to support our health, economic and social response to the virus.
I am pleased to report that after a year of tireless effort and expense, we are now down to zero active cases of COVID-19. However, it has come at great cost to the economy and society. GDP contracted by 18 percent in 2020 leaving many unemployed. My Administration rolled out an economic stimulus package after the onset of the pandemic in order to provide economic and social support to those affected. Today we continue to assist the vulnerable with social assistance and to provide financial support to struggling businesses.
While the tourism sector reopened for business on 1st December 2020, recovery remains at the very early stages after a border closure of nine-months. However, I am confident that with the ongoing rollout of our COVID-19 vaccination programme and robust public health measures, the economy will rebound as the risk of an outbreak significantly decreases. We estimate that the tourism sector, and wider economy, will make a modest recovery within the next 12 to 18 months.
Excellencies, ladies and gentleman, with COVID-19 contained and post-pandemic recovery in view, we have resumed work on a National Sustainable Development Plan and recently launched official public consultations to gather further input from the public. The process is being spearheaded by Dr. June Soomer, former Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, who is the ECLAC consultant supporting us. She is being supported by an excellent local team. The National Sustainable Development Plan will reflect the aspirations of our people and guide post-pandemic recovery and the transition to sustainable development.
To complement this effort, UNDP is providing technical assistance for the development of sectoral strategies to operationalise our forthcoming plan. Already, UNDP and the British Virgin Islands have collaborated on the development of a blue economy roadmap that will guide the sustainable use of our marine sector.
Additionally, we will be receiving support from the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (RC) for the Eastern Caribbean to help coordinate assistance from the UN system to help us implement the National Sustainable Development Plan once completed. The RC’s Office has already proven highly effective in such a role in regard to the COVID-19 Multi-Country Response Plan for the Eastern Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands has received generous support as a result.
We are highly confident that with the trio of UN support available to us, we will be much better equipped to move ahead with our sustainable development plans. However, we still face very real challenges in terms of administrative capacity, policy expertise, technology transfer and financial resources. We need capacity building support and technical assistance to address these challenges. We also need our vulnerability to be factored into eligibility for support from international donors. This is particularly important since Brexit cut off any future EU funding the British Virgin Islands can receive for sustainable development, which was one of the only sources of development assistance for which we were eligible.
Lastly, we realise that partnerships of different kinds will be needed to implement the 2030 Agenda, including with the private sector and Civil Society. The UN system in particular can be an effective partner in helping the British Virgin Islands to meet our goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
I thank you.